Ottawa hosts march against human trafficking following recent arrest

An Ottawa woman who escaped human trafficking was among about 100 people who took part in the Walk for Freedom on Saturday to highlight an issue she calls a "huge problem" in Ottawa.

Group marched in single file through Ottawa streets to raise awareness about human trafficking

Walk for Freedom participants stood out on Parliament Hill wearing all black as they posed for a photo. (Robyn Miller)

An Ottawa woman who escaped human trafficking was among about 100 people who took part in the Walk for Freedom on Saturday to highlight an issue she calls a "huge problem" in Ottawa.

"Traffickers are running parties where they invite people to their house and they have young girls and young women there," said Simone Bell. "It's moving into your suburbs and it's everywhere."

Bell knows about human trafficking first-hand after becoming a target for sexual exploitation when she was 21 years old, nearly a decade ago.

Over a period of four years she was trafficked between Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal and Niagara Falls.

"During the time that I was trafficked, there was not a lot of awareness going on. And now we have some great organizations," said Bell.
Simone Bell was a victim of human trafficking and now works with other survivors through an organization called Voice Found. (Robyn Miller)

She applauded the Ottawa police human trafficking unit, launched as a pilot project in 2013, for "making a lot of arrests" and encouraging those being trafficked to come forward. The unit was made permanent at the end of September.

On Monday, police arrested and charged 37-year-old Cameron Lyons with human trafficking and child luring. He is accused of contacting girls on social media and posing as a talent agent.

According to police, Lyons initiated conversations over Facebook with three girls, two 14-year-olds and one 16-year-old, by posing as a talent agent for a fake company.

Police said the online conversations would turn from modeling jobs to providing sexual services for money at parties and events.

Social media link to human trafficking

Organizers of Saturday's march social media is often used to lure people into human trafficking.

"It didn't surprised me the method that was used," said Sarah Sambles, who volunteered to organize the walk.

"I go and do training in high schools and when I hear stories from survivors this is the story we hear over and over and over again, that they are targeted through social media as young as these girls this week," she said.
The Walk for Freedom was organized in partnership with A21, a global anti-human trafficking organization. (Robyn Miller)

Ottawa's Walk for Freedom was organized in partnership with A21, a global anti-human trafficking organization.

It was one of about 300 walks happening in 40 countries. Participants marched in single-file from Elgin Street, through the Byward Market and up to Parliament Hill.

Protecting youth from predators

As the father of two young girls, participant Phil Blake said when he heard about the latest arrest he had feeling of disbelief and fear.

The predators out there are just getting so clever in getting to our children.- Ottawa father Phil Blake

"You really have to pay close attention to where your kids are getting their information, who they're talking to and how they're talking to them," said Blake.

"The predators out there are just getting so clever in getting to our children," he added.

Between 2013 and 2015 the Ottawa Police Human Trafficking Unit was involved in 215 investigations and laid more than 300 charges related to human trafficking cases, according to police.